The Bible’s Viewpoint
Have You Ever Lived Before?
“I REMEMBER many of my past lives—sometimes I was a male, other times a female.” Actress Shirley MacLaine explains how she arrived at that conclusion in her best-seller Out on a Limb. At first she was “astonished to find, not only that reincarnation was an integrated part of most Eastern beliefs . . . but that hosts of notable thinkers from the West shared this view.”
Yes, more people than you might suppose—including hundreds of millions of Buddhists and Hindus—believe they have lived before. They believe that something within them—many call it the soul—survives death and is reborn in one or more successive existences. This “something” returns in human, or as some say animal or even vegetable, form. Most of them agree that the purpose of this is gradually to purify the soul or to lead the individual to ultimate perfection.
Admittedly, the idea of having lived before and of perhaps living again may be fascinating, even comforting. But is it true?
Have You Existed in the Spirit Realm?
“Yes,” says The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are commonly called Mormons. The late James E. Talmage, an apostle of the church, wrote about the “many scriptural proofs that the spirits of mankind existed prior to their earthly probation—a condition in which these intelligences lived and exercised their free agency before they assumed bodily tabernacles.”
True, Jesus, the Son of God, existed in heaven before he lived on earth. (John 6:38, 62) In fact, this is what led Talmage to write that “it is consistent to infer that if His earthly birth was the union of a preexistent or antemortal spirit with a mortal body such also is the birth of every member of the human family.”
While in heaven, Jesus had always been obedient to his Father. Thus his earthly sojourn was not designed to place him on “earthly probation,” as though he were a sinner. On the contrary, he was a perfect, sinless human, able to redeem sinners, able to “give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matthew 20:28) So Jesus is one of a kind, the “one mediator between God and men.” (1 Timothy 2:5, 6) His assignment of service on earth was temporary. After completing it, he could return to his real home, to heaven.
But in view of these facts, can we speak of heaven as being our home in the same sense as he could?
In Human Form But Not Human
In times past, invisible spirit creatures, angels, have materialized visible human bodies at God’s direction. (Genesis 19:1; Luke 1:26-28) But in the days of Noah, some of them did so on their own initiative. Why? For the selfish purpose of enjoying sexual relations with women. (Genesis 6:2) Since this was not God’s arrangement for angels, their step was one of disobedience. The Bible calls them “angels that did not keep their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling place.” (Jude 6) Clearly, then, heaven is the “proper dwelling place” for angels, even as the earth is for humans.—Compare Psalm 115:16; 1 Corinthians 15:39, 40.
Jesus actually “became flesh” when he came to earth. (John 1:14) Not so these angels. They simply materialized human bodies that they deserted at the time of the Flood in order to return to the spirit realm. Because of their revolt, however, God confined “them to pits of dense darkness to be reserved for judgment.” No longer could they materialize fleshly bodies to live on earth.—2 Peter 2:4.
So the examples of Jesus and the materialized angels cannot properly be used to prove that humans existed in the spirit realm “prior to their earthly probation,” as the Mormons teach. But would this rule out having lived previous lives as humans here on earth?
God’s Purpose in Creating the Soul
Actually, the key to determining whether man has lived before or not—either in the spirit realm or on earth—is to determine whether he has an immortal soul or not. Genesis 2:7 describes the creation of the first human soul this way: “And Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul.”
Notice that the soul is not described as something distinct and separate from the lifeless body. In fact, only after God energized the lifeless body with “the breath of life,” thus triggering it into breathing, did the soul Adam come to life. When breathing stops and the life-force ceases, the body once again becomes lifeless. Man “goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.” (Psalm 146:4) He must await the day of resurrection to live again. (John 5:28, 29) Meanwhile, there can be “no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom” in the death state. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) Simply stated, the soul is dead.
Dozens of Bible texts show the soul to be destructible, thus plainly ruling out human immortality of the soul. (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Psalm 22:29; Acts 3:23; Revelation 16:3) With the soul dead, what is left to pass on to live again in another body? Besides, why would there even be a need for anything to pass on? When God created human souls, he called them “very good.” This he could do because they were created perfect, designed to live upon the earth forever. (Genesis 1:31) They were souls that needed no purification; they were already morally pure. Neither were they souls that needed to die in order to live again. Eternal life within the framework of their original existence on earth was their prospect.
The Bible’s answer to whether you have ever lived before—either in the spirit realm or on the earth—is quite clear. Equally clear is the opportunity God offers you of one day living upon a paradise earth forever. Would you care to learn more?
[Blurb on page 23]
Some one hundred Bible texts show the human soul to be mortal, destructible; can you find one that says it is immortal?
[Pictures on page 22]
Were you all these people?